Boston's Tom Scholz on Flying, Drugs, and the Sweet Sounds of Analog

Boston is set to kick off its 40th Anniversary Tour at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood on April 29.
Boston is set to kick off its 40th Anniversary Tour at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood on April 29.
Kamal Asar

Rock 'n' Roll is dead.

At least, that is what the mastermind behind what would become the biggest-selling debut album of all time was told in 1975.

And if Tom Scholz had listened to top music executives’ assertions that disco had upended rock, we would live in a world without the band Boston — without “More Than a Feeling,” “Foreplay/Long Time,” “Rock & Roll Band,” “Don’t Look Back,” “Peace of Mind,” “Smokin’” and “Amanda.”

But Scholz persevered. The MIT grad painstakingly played 90 percent of the instruments on the hit album Boston, laying track upon track in his small basement studio while friend Brad Delp soulfully belted out lyrics.

Seven albums, 12 tours and 829 shows later, Boston is set to kick off its 40th Anniversary Tour at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood on April 29.

“When I started this, I didn’t really expect people to remember Boston 40 days later, let alone 40 years later,” Scholz says with a chuckle.

He has since engineered every song in one of three basement studios in his suburban Boston neighborhood. Despite the arduous process of composing, mixing, and producing, the joy of playing live makes it all worthwhile for Scholz.

“We have some fantastic new theatrical visuals … new things that I’m working on which I will just describe as electrifying.”

The current group of touring musicians took years to assemble, and includes Scholz on guitar and keyboards, Gary Pihl on guitar, Tommy DeCarlo on lead vocals and percussion, Tracy Ferrie on bass guitar, Beth Cohen on keyboards, guitar, and vocals, and Curly Smith and Jeff Neal switching off on drums.

The road, however, has not always been easy for Scholz. The tragic suicide of Delp in 2007, physical injuries, and a string of legal battles have resulted in both frustration and personal growth.

But through it all, Scholz has kept his head on straight. He says that being sober in an industry permeated by drugs and alcohol has actually been something of an impediment.

“It was a real roadblock for me. I didn’t smoke dope. I didn’t experiment with drugs in the '70s. That left me as something of an outcast. I’ve always been an outcast, especially of the local Boston music scene, and to some degree in the national music scene.”

Scholz hopes his successes have been inspirational and helped pave the way for like-minded musicians.

“I tried … to let people know that you don’t need to be an out-of-control partier to be successful in the music industry,” he says.

Although he considers himself an engineer first, Scholz has the rare ability to master any instrument he touches.

“I love guitar because it’s very expressive. It’s far more difficult to play than keyboard in a sense. I enjoy keyboard instruments because you can make a lot of music very easily without a lot of effort, and I love bass because you have so much power in the palm of your hands,” Scholz says.

Gibson released a limited-edition, Collector’s Choice™ #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul in honor of Scholz, whom they refer to as a “rock legend.”

To ensure that concert-goers hear the unique sound they know and love, Boston utilizes the same Scholz-designed Rockman gear onstage as is used to record albums. In fact, the sound of Scholz’ patented line of Rockman amplifiers and effects have contributed to the style of countless artists, from Jeff Beck to Def Leppard.

“We are probably the only major touring act that presents the sound in full analog … Most bands these days play through digital mixing consoles and it’s no longer the real thing,” Scholz says of Boston’s authentic and highly technical sound.

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Indeed, Scholz prefers everything in analog, as the mini-cassette-tape in his telephone answering machine will attest.

And how does the most discerning ear in rock ‘n’ roll know when each emotional crescendo and magical harmony is finally perfected?

By listening to it in the tape player of his 1996 Toyota Camry.

“My preferred listening other than vinyl is a cassette tape,” he laughs, sharing the sentiment of music’s most discriminating critics.

But his talents don’t stop at music.

“We do it all 100% live. There’s no pre-recorded tracks...Everything you hear is being done onstage.”EXPAND
“We do it all 100% live. There’s no pre-recorded tracks...Everything you hear is being done onstage.”
Kamal Asar

As a licensed pilot, Scholz flies his single-engine Beach Bonanza from city-to-city on tours. While the plane may be old-fashioned by today’s standards, Scholz says it is still his favorite way to get around.

“It’s like a video game only in real life! Last tour, we put 30,000 miles on it — that’s 1-1/3 times the circumference around the earth.”

When not touring with Boston or working on new material, the low-key Scholz likes to hang out with his wife Kim and run hills with his miniature snow-dog Barkley. A vegetarian since 1979, Scholz has a special affinity for animals.

“[Becoming vegetarian] finally allowed me to feel, philosophically, at some equilibrium. Because up until the point … it just didn’t make sense — treating some animals very nicely and then eating others,” he explains.

At 69 going on 40, the 6-foot-6 Scholz hits the gym and ice rink several times a week, having finally conquered the elusive double-toe loop that he strived for years to land.

“I’m still at the skating rink working on double rotation freestyle jumps whereas other people are having hip replacements and stents put in.”

Scholz is going to need every bit of that energy for this tour. Boston is scheduled to play for a half million people during the course of 58 shows. But don’t presume this tour will be like any other you’ve seen, because Scholz has few tricks up his sleeve.

In addition to an electrifying new stage show, the music will draw heavily from their flagship album and include all the instrumental masterpieces and tricky harmonies that Boston fans have come to expect, Scholz promises.

“We do it all 100 percent live. There’s no pre-recorded tracks. We don’t even have pre-recorded music to introduce the band. Everything you hear is being done onstage.”

Describing his bandmates, Scholz adds, “They put their heart into it. When I’m listening I find myself sometimes drifting off onstage … forgetting that I’m supposed to be playing along … because it sounds so good.”

Boston
8 p.m. Friday, April 29, at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood, 33314. Tickets cost $46 to $76 plus fees. Call 800-745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.

Wendy Rhodes is a freelance writer and award-winning author. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @WendyRhodesFL.

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